Steam can be a nasty habbit… or at least a damnable temptation. They have these sales, you see. Good sales. Good games for as little as $2.50 or $5. This leads me to have a large heap of games in the review pile. Forgive me the laziness of linking to games on steam. It’s fast and you can find the game’s home page from there if you like.
Tropico 3 is a town building strategy game that features tropical island settings. In the game, your avatar is the dictator/ruler/guy-in-charge of the island. The games plays out in a very tounge in cheek way. You can play the oppressive (or the popular) dictator or you can play the populist that wins every election (honestly or by subterfuge). But everything (and I do mean everything) you do has a wide range of effects on the population.
You can play this game at many levels. At the highest level, you can create buildings and manage the population with grand edicts and immigration policy. You can also micro manage each individual citizen. You can arrest them or have them shot. You can have them fired from their jobs. You can have years go by in minutes or you can stretch them out as you carefully craft your strategy.
Again at the higher levels, you manage the politics both internal and with the USA/USSR twins. Internally you need to somewhat satisfy a subset of the groups in the country (comunists, captialists, religious, …etc) that are balanced so as to be at cross purposes with each other. I suppose that is somewhat realistic. Externally, the same but somewhat simpler fight plays out between the USA, the USSR and your little country. Sometimes making the USA happy will stop it from invading. Other times, making the USSR really happy will convince it to protect you from the USA. Again… at least to the tounge and cheek point of the game, somewhat realistic.
At the lower levels, each citizen has needs… things like food, healthcare, entertainment and religion. When their statistic gets low, they enter a phase (visible on their action log) to satisfy that need. When they run out of food or healthcare, they die. Other stats just drive them to be unhappy and revolt. Some revolution is manageable, but a full fledged revolution can oust you and end the game.
The interface is surprisingly rich. Overview panels can list the number of happy citizens and the number of unhappy citizens. There are lists and graphs for every type of activity, production and whim. Presenting the number of unhappy citizens is one thing, but the graphical representation of the citizens is somewhat like stick figures and these are clickable — selecting the individual citizen they represent.
On that individual citizen, all the stats you find in aggregate are there for the individual. The most surprising thing, however, is that the state machine for each citizen is exposed in log format on this interface. You can see the list of actions this person has recently performed and why. For the completionist, this provides insight into how one might configure the “perfect” world and for aficionados of this game genre, this is a really cool feature. It also means that you can be more assured that the game is not pulling a “fast one” on you.
The game can play out as a series of campaigns each with their own different goals that encourage you to explore all of the games mechanics. You can also generate random sandbox islands which allow you to investigate game mechanics for your own edification. The expansion pack “absolute power” adds more campaigns and a number of new building types that generally make the game more fun.
I wasn’t aware that the “absolute power” items were available to the regular campaign when I started playing, but some of the new building types simply make more sense. The windmill, in particular, is more affordable and modular than the regular game’s power station. It also doesn’t pollute. And the radio voice (which complains about everything) says something about the dictators erecting a windmill that only rotates “with the wind.” … which is funny the first few times. In my first playthough I didn’t even realize the powerstation was available until I was trying to get an “all buildings built” achievement.
Right now Steam and other retailers are offering a bundle of the game and the expansion as the “gold edition” … and I recommend getting that if you haven’t bought the game already.
Eventually, the repeating radio announcements and small playlist become tedious. The game does offer the option to shoot the radio host (which is a small amount of comedy relief), but the tedious audio is useful enough that you will miss out on game events without it chattering in the background. This game also has a limited amount of replay value as there’s only so much content to explore. I’m not sure if it would be worth the full price, but it’s definitely worth the download specials. I found it held my attention for 50-ish hours and I might play it occasionally again. In particular, this game might be fun played as a committee of friends around a big-screen TV.
If you play this game enough, you’ll start to decide on a myriad of ways to improve it or ways in which it was deficient. It seems a miracle that games like this get published as there always seems to be something to add or something to rejig. A few of these are minor irritations, but none of them were in the way of enjoying the game. I can’t quite give this game a “must buy” but I can certainly give it hearty buy “on special” …